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by Thomas Zielke
A few years ago, William H. Gates invented the slogan "Information at your fingertips". This, he said, was to mean a new generation of computer software that should be able to give you any information you need with just a few keystrokes, no matter if it is a text, a picture, a table, a chart - virtually all information stored in your computer should then be within easy reach of the user. I think Bill Gates has not promised too much - at least he is on a good path to reach this ambitious goal within the next, let's say, ten or twenty years, and it seems that this slogan will indeed prove more successful than the last one about the "Paperless Office" - actually I myself seem to waste more paper than ever before. Now we humble historians, however, are on quite a similar path - of course it is not as ambitious as Bill Gates' great vision, but our new slogan seems to bear as much potential for a revolution and it seems at the moment that we are much nearer to our goal - our own version of Microsoft's slogan is 'History at your Fingertips'.
Now what is the meaning of this slogan? It is common knowledge that these days both information and communication are more important than ever before - not only in the world of politics, finance or business, but also in our world of science, teaching and research. On the other hand, we historians now have learned that time really is money, and the speed of progress in our science has grown faster and faster in the last few decades. Additionally, the historian who dedicates all of his work to one single topic or problem and works on it all by himself, without any help from colleagues or assistants has almost become a figure of the past - today, we historians all need to communicate with each other and we need to exchange information with each other, and in some sub-disciplines of history it has become an absolute necessity to work together in groups, and this on a nationwide, if not on an international range.
So what our slogan "History at your Fingertips" means, and what we want to achieve in the very near future is to make information and communication available to every historian around the world, and this in a way faster and much more comfortable than ever before. I know - this does sound very ambitious and very expensive, but actually all this is possible today; unlike Bill Gates we do not need new hardware nor do we need new software, all we need to do is to use the resources that are available right now.
Communication via the computer - in our days of worldwide computer networks, we find that especially our colleagues from the natural (or exact, as some still like to call them) sciences, and even more those from the computer sciences are more and more using the computer as a communication device. Electronic mail seems to be the magic word of our age: You type a letter just as you would normally do on your computer, and then you simply press a button and the letter is sent away - no paper, no envelope, not even a stamp is needed. Electronic communication is indeed a fast and reliable way of communicating - once a letter is sent, it will reach the recipient in less than one hour, even if the letter has to cross the Atlantic Ocean on its way, and it often takes only minutes for a letter to arrive at its destination. Apart from sending letters, every kind of electronic document can be sent via the net, be it a scanned page of a book, a map, a picture or a photograph or just a data file - if it can be stored on a diskette, it can also be sent as e-mail. Some systems also allow to use the net just like a telephone line: You type in a question, and your partner receives it within seconds and gives you the answer - and it does not matter in which state, country or continent your partner is, nor does it matter which network, computer or program he uses.
But what is needed to get access to this wonderland of electronic communication? Today, nearly every university or institution offers free access to at least one of the world-wide computer networks, the BITNET or the InterNet, for their members. Just ask your local computer center's staff, and they will certainly tell you what to do to use this network connection. The rest is similarly easy - if you know how to log in into your system (and this can be a mainframe system, a Local Area Network of several PCs or just a simple PC with a modem that can connect to some remote system with BITNET- or InterNet- access), there is not much more to know - some basic knowledge about how to type a letter on your specific system, some four or five commands to send and receive mail and you are ready to use your system's mailing capabilities. Some more sophisticated systems even have menu-based mailing systems which are operated with just a few keystrokes, and if you need any help, a simple keystroke will get you any help and information you need to have - so electronic communication really is just as simple as using a telephone or a fax or typing a letter. You see: there really is nothing arcane or mysterious about electronic communication, and one does not have to be an expert, or have a programmer or a computer scientist at one's side to use it.
I had my first contact with electronic communication in 1987. To me, it was then an undiscovered country - it was in fact a mere coincidence that I heard of it at all. I was working on a project then where we had to transcribe and store a considerable amount of historical tax data for statistical analysis. We had to use two different systems, a brand-new and highly expensive high-end XT-computer (which was the first computer to be installed at our institute) and our university's new mainframe system, and of course we had many questions concerning hardware and software. On one of these days, when I was at our computer center's information desk again, the clerk asked me whether I might possibly be interested in joing a special e-mail forum where I could ask all my questions and have them answered by an international expert forum. Naturally, I was interested, and I was given a small but highly informative introduction brochure to read.
One chapter was dedicated to the LISTSERV-facilities, a computerized message distribution service which offers a large variety of public discussion groups, the so-called lists. These lists, I learned, are actually a list of persons (or, more precisely: their electronic addresses) who want to discuss a specific topic with a larger group via the net. To become a member of such a list, one simply sends a one-line subscription-command to a LISTSERV-site giving the name of the list one wants to join and one's name. After this request has been accepted (which usually only takes a few seconds), one receives a copy of all mail contributions that are sent to list, and one can of course send own contributions to the list as well. All this sounded very interesting to me, and with a few hints and tips I managed to join a few of those discussion groups where people talked about programming and computers. It was amazing - whenever I had a problem, I just had to send it to the forum, and soon afterwards I received a large number of tips, ideas and even whole source program texts to solve my problems. It really was like having a whole staff of experts sitting in the office next door, just waiting for me to ask for help.
One of those countless letters gave me a hint that there was a list that was dedicated to the discussion of history in all its aspects. The name of this list was (what else could it have been?) HISTORY, and to hear of it and to join it was only a matter of seconds. At this time, the list was physically located somewhere in Finland - Helsinki University of Technology, to be more exact - and had about 90 members (of which a considerable number are still on the list), and the initiator and list-owner (which is what the person is called who does all the necessary adminstrative work and who is finally responsible for the list) was a Finnish scholar at that time. Soon I noticed HISTORY's unique atmosphere - the conversation was lively, sometimes a bit chatty, but always very informative, and I felt somewhat reminded of a discussion which could as well take place in the corridor of my department. The variety of topics was enormous - it ranged from Ancient History to the Second World-War, from Social History to Historiography, from teaching History to research problems; virtually every discipline and aspect of history was covered on this list. Again - whenever I had a question, I only had to send it to HISTORY and to wait for all the answers to come in.
Some months later, the Postmaster of HISTORY's home-node informed the list-members that the owner of the list had obviously moved to new duties and was no longer available for maintaining the list. In addition, we were told - or rather: warned - that if nobody would volunteer to become owner of this list, the list would be closed and deleted. A few list-members, including me, immediately offered to fulfil the duties of owning the list. I did not really think that I would be the one to be chosen, but a few days later I received a letter from the Postmaster informing me that, since I was the only volunteer from Europe and they preferred to have a list-owner whose home-node was as near as possible to HISTORY's node, I had been made the owner of the HISTORY list. Imagine my surprise and horror - there I was, owning a list consisting of a large number of scholars from all around the world, with virtually no idea what to do. However, as LISTSERV is one of the best-documented software-systems I have ever seen, I was soon provided with whole stacks of material how to operate a list - and to my great relief I found out that it really was not that difficult to do - a simple set of four of five commands were all I needed to do the job, and the Postmaster of HISTORY's node, Mr. Salminen, was so kind to offer me any help and assistance I needed in my first days as a list-owner.
Now what exactly does it mean to be a list-owner? As a list-owner, one's main task is to keep the list running: if there are problems with mail returned to LISTSERV because of invalid addresses, it's the list- owner's duty to fix that problem, normally by stopping distribution of mail to the address in question or by deleting that address from the list; and if the whole list comes to a stand-still due to a LISTSERV-problem, the list-owner has to contact the people that are in charge of LISTSERV to find and solve the problem. Additionally, the list-owner helps people who are experiencing problems with the list or who just need information about the list and how to join the discussion group- but this is only the easy part of the job.
The list-owner is also a kind of ombudsman for the whole group: Whenever a list-member receives unwanted or even offensive mail, the list-owner is the person to contact and who has to take proper actions to solve the problem. In most cases, a short, polite letter to the person who caused the problem will do, but sometimes one meets a situation where harder measures are unavoidable; ranging from temporarily removing the offender from the list to having the person in question withdrawn further access to the net. Luckily, I have never had to go this far - in fact I often find that the members of HISTORY have, as a group, evolved a sense of responsibility, discipline and control, a set of rules that helps to avoid most of the problems that may come up in a large and heterogenous group of people. But what, you may ask yourselves, is the HISTORY list like? I think one can describe HISTORY best as by the first impression I had of it: a kind of electronic Common Room where you find your friends and colleagues discussing various things in a number of small groups, where questions are asked and answered, where you can find information and help - or just chat about things and problems that you would normally discuss with colleagues.
So when you first enter the HISTORY community, you might find the group discussing things you would not have expected - we have been, for example, discussing the Los Angeles riots, the German re-unification, H. Ross Perot' campaign or whatever is a current issue. Certainly, you might expect us discussing History instead - but then whatever we discuss is being looked at from the historian's point of view, and every of those 'unexpected' discussions reflect the way we historians see the world that surrounds us. And what is more, these discussions reflect the perspectives of the American historian, the French historian, the German historian, and I personally find that I this is as important as discussing history itself - these discussions help us understand the views and opinions of our colleagues in other countries. And is it not true that especially we historians must learn to see things from more than one point of view? In that respect, HISTORY can certainly be a help in reaching the historian's goal of being as objective as possible.
Nevertheless: Whoever wants to discuss a topic or a specific problem that is related to history can feel free to bring up a new discussion about whatever he or she would like to have discussed in our forum, be it Medieval History, American History, political history - you will always find some partners for your discussion. Sometimes some list-member will point you to another, perhaps more specialized forum which is also discussing your topic at the moment, or you may as well find yourself in a very lively and intense private correspondence with one or two list members very soon.
Besides being a forum for discussing history and related topics, HISTORY also acts as an information service - we receive conference announcements, calls for papers, information about new e-journals, bibliographies and data files that have been made accessible to the public, invitations for new, specialized LISTSERV-lists, and if you need tips which books to use in your class or for your paper, you will get most certainly get several recommendations, if not even a complete bibliography. As you see - with HISTORY, we historians have a fantastic source for information, and all you have to do is to go and collect the information you need.
After a few months as a list-owner, I noticed that HISTORY had from its small beginnings grown to almost 180 subscribers, most of them from the USA and Canada. The communication was livelier than ever, and on some days almost 80 pieces of mail from HISTORY arrived in my mailbox. Since HISTORY was then physically located in Finland, this meant that every single contribution from, let's say, the United States, had to be transmitted across the Atlantic and then via France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden till it would finally reach Finland where it would be re-distributed to the subscribers - and then, of course, the mail had to travel all the way back. This whole process took quite some time as well as it used up a considerable amount of network resources, and whenever one of the various communication links on the way to Helsinki was down for a while, communication with HISTORY was down, too. I was then thinking about moving HISTORY to a new home site somewhere in the U.S., but I knew this would only mean shifting the problem, not solving it.
I discussed the problem with the Postmaster responsible for HISTORY, and he suggested to use LISTSERV's peered-list feature. This feature allows large lists to be split up into a number of smaller lists, all of which are then connected with the other lists to form a kind of sub-network. In a second step, all subscriptions are moved to their nearest list-site - this is done with one single LISTSERV command, as LISTSERV 'knows' of all list sites that are available and can calculate which of these sites is nearest to which subscriber. Additionally, LISTSERV automatically informs every subscriber that he or she is served by another node from that time on. After these operations have been completed, a contribution sent to the list is handled in a different way than on a single-sited list: The LISTSERV-installation which receives the mail first distributes it to all subscribers on the local list. After that, another copy is sent to the adjacent list-sites, which then distribute it to their local list of subscribers and pass it on to their neighbour-lists until the last site in the chain is reached. This system, of course, considerably speeds up the process of mail distribution and makes the whole list-traffic less vulnerable to broken communication links, since even if a link between two sub-lists is down, the lists that are connected can still communicate, and should all inter-list links break down for some time, one can still communicate with the subscribers on one's local list.
As soon as I knew about this feature, I contacted several postmasters to find out if any of them was willing to host HISTORY at his node. Within two weeks, I received positive answers from a number of sites in the U.S., and I decided to have at least two HISTORY-sites there, as the number of subscribers from North America had grown even higher in the meantime. The first new HISTORY site was opened in Buffalo, followed by another site at the Rutgers University, and a few weeks later I could proudly announce the opening of yet another site at the University of Missouri at Rolla. The last node on the American continent has been installed here, at the University of Kansas, several months ago. On my side of the Atlantic, things took a bit longer, but after some negotiations I was able to add the University College of Dublin and the Gesellschaft fuer wissenschaftliche Datenverarbeitung at Goettingen to my list of HISTORY sites. The latest new sub-list is located in Czechoslovakia - this node has been in operation for just a few months now.
Nodename Location Country Subscribers
CSEARN Czech Technical University, Prague Czechoslovakia 2
DGOGWDG1 Gesellschaft fuer wissenschaftliche Datenverarbeitung, Goettingen Germany 16
FINHUTC Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki, Finland 7
IRLEARN University College Dublin, Dublin Ireland 24
RUTVM1 Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ USA 188
UBVM State University of NewYork at Buffalo, NY USA 61
UKANVM University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas USA 19
UMRVMB University of Missouri, Rolla USA 10
Table 1: Current HISTORY nodes
So what used to be managed by one single node is now done by altogether eight nodes. The nodes at Buffalo and Dublin form the trans-Atlantic backbone, every piece of HISTORY mail is being sent via this link to reach the - respectively - other continent. From Ireland, HISTORY-links go to Finland and Germany, and the Czechoslovakian node is linked to HISTORY through Germany. The node at Buffalo is connected to Rutgers and Kansas, while the Missouri-node is connected via Rutgers. This new structure, as complex as it may appear, was quite easy to install, and it did in fact speed up the process of message re-distribution dramatically - for some subscribers it now took only seconds to receive the acknowledgement that their contribution had been received by LISTSERV, and I myself was able to receive mail from HISTORY only ten to twenty minutes after the sender had transmitted it to his HISTORY site.
The subscribers of HISTORY, however, normally do not notice that HISTORY is split up in a number of sub-lists. For them, the only change was that they had to direct their mail to another node than before, while the system itself behaved just as if it consisted of one single list. Maintaining the list became more comfortable, too. Before, I always had to wait one or even two days whenever I told LISTSERV to send me a copy of the list for maintenance, and I what I received was a rather large file that was a bit awkward to handle on my system. A major problem then was that from the moment I was sent the list until the time the changed file arrived at the LISTSERV site the whole list was 'locked', which means that during that time LISTSERV did not accept any subscriptions to the list - sometimes as long as four or five days. After splitting up the list all I had to do was to order a copy of just those sub-lists that needed maintenance, while the rest of the lists could remain totally operative, which made things much more convenient for the users of HISTORY and for me as the list-owner. Some of the new history lists have, by the way, been set up in a similar way. Both SOVHIST and RUSHIST, for example, are split up in four sub-lists which are located at USCVM, UMRVMB (Rolla), DOSUNI1 (Osnabrueck, Germany) and CSEARN (Czechoslovakia), and I assume that some more lists are going to follow our example.
At this point, I'd like to point out that HISTORY with its whole structure is remotely operated from a terminal in Oldenburg, Germany - it is not necessary to have a LISTSERV installed at one's local site, nor is it needed to have an account at the node where your list is located. All LISTSERV commands can be sent via e-mail or interactive messages, so it is no problem at all to have a list located at a site hundreds of miles away from wherever you are - and this means that everybody who has access to electronic mail facilities can be a list-owner.
In the following months after its re-structuring, HISTORY continually grew larger and larger, and it soon reached the number of 250 subscribers. On some days, more than 100 messages were sent via HISTORY, and we often had four or five discussions on the list simultaneously. Very soon I received private letters from several subscribers whether it would be possible to have some of the various discussions on HISTORY moved to separate, specialized lists. I tried to find out if there were such lists, but I only found a few, and none of these were discussing what my subscribers wanted to discuss - so there was obviously a great need for more history-related lists.
I decided to ask the list if some of the members might be interested in becoming list-owners themselves, and I was amazed to hear that quite a few subscribers had already thought of starting their own lists, but did not know how to do so. I told them that I would of course provide them with every information they might need and began asking the forum which discussion list they would like to have on the net. I received about ten suggestions and managed to find some people to volunteer as a future list-owner, while I myself created two new groups - EMHIST-L for the discussion of Early Modern History and GRMNHIST for German History.
A few months ago I asked again whether there was any need for new discussion groups, and I received about twenty letters, all full with ideas and requests for new lists. As a result, we have about ten new lists on the net since then, and I feel encouraged to start a new round of list-creation by the end of this year - as far as I can see, there are a lot of topics that would be worth a special list. Just to give a few examples of recently opened lists: we now have a list for Islamic history, one for the history of law, one for medieval history, one for the history of the American West, another one for Soviet history and a list for Russian history - there are many more, of course, but to name them all here would take too much time. In addition, a list for the discussion of Social History has been opened only a few days ago, and we hope to have a new special list for Women's History very soon.
However, HISTORY has grown even larger since then, and it seems that it is still growing. I had in fact thought that if we introduced new specialized lists, a larger number of subscribers would leave HISTORY and move to those new lists, but though the new lists were more or less stormed with subscriptions from HISTORY-members, these subscribers did stay participantss of HISTORY, too. It seems that they discuss their special interests and questions on specialized lists, while they come to HISTORY to discuss more general issues - in fact, HISTORY has since then become more and more like a kind of electronic Common Room.
A recent count showed that HISTORY now has about 320 subscribers from about 20 countries, with the majority of subscribers coming from the USA. A number of the subscriptions are not from individual persons but from so-called newsgroups or local message re-distribution services, so we may suspect that the actual number of readers is even higher - some rough estimations go as far as to more than 600 regular readers. Of course, these numbers are subject to seasonal changes - we notice quite a number of people leaving the list during the summer (which is the time when students leave university and lose their e-mail accounts), while at the end of summer there is a wave of new subscriptions to our lists, but in the long term there is a continuing rise in the number of subscriptions. So if we regard the numbers above, I think it would not be too audacious to say that HISTORY is one of the most successful electronic discussion groups in the Humanities.
As you can see, with our HISTORY list and all its affiliates we have quite a lot of facilities to offer in the area of electronic communication for historians. However, so far we have only been scratching the surface. Our plans go as far as to create a world-wide federation of all these lists - the History Network. While we were still in the process of creating new discussion groups, Professor Lynn Nelson and I began discussing if it would make sense to form a kind of co-operation between all existing and future history-related lists to make information exchange between all those faster and more effective. I found this idea a rather fascinating one and began immediately to set up a new list named HISTOWNR - a list that should serve as a discussion forum for those persons who own and maintain history-related lists as well as a kind of information exchange where people can send whatever they feel might be interesting for more than one list, so that those list-owners who are members of HISTOWNR can re-distribute this information to their own lists. HISTOWNR is also a forum that provides help and assistance to all those who want to create a new list but need information on how to do this. We assist them in finding a host site for their list, help them in the technical process of creating the list and provide them with all the manuals they need, and after the new list has been opened, we help the owner solving all the problems that may occur.
HISTOWNR, however, is only the first step towards the History Network. Our next step will be the creation of a History Network Committee whose members will come from the HISTOWNR group and whose primary task will be to plan the future activities of the Network and to set up a kind of official charter for the History Network which will describe the nature, the purpose, the tasks and the activities of this institution.
One of these future tasks of the Network will be the creation of even more electronic discussion groups, until we reach a point where there is a specialized forum for virtually every period, region and sub- discipline of history, so that every potential subscriber will be able to find at least one forum that covers his particular fields of interest. The owners of these groups will find their forum in the already existing HISTOWNR list which will provide technical help and assistance as well as it will serve as a forum for administrative questions. A first step in the latter direction has already been made, as we will soon begin setting up a model guide for history discussion lists providing both technical information for the user and a kind of 'e-mail manner book'.
Additionally, the History Network Commitee will co-ordinate all activities in and around the History Network - apart from being the Network's top instance of information and assistance for list-owners and subscribers it will also maintain contacts to institutions, historians' associations, universities, journals and the press. For example, we hope to establish a co-operation with the Gutenberg Project in the near future, and we intend to have regular contacts with the AHC, the Humanities Computing Faculty of UCSB and the Canadian Historians' Association.
Another task of the History Network will be to make more and more electronic resources available. Besides all the present and future history discussion lists, we need to have a larger number of electronic archive sites within easy reach of the e-netted historian - archives that store papers or even whole books, sources, lectures, bibliographies, pictures and many more. We do have already two such sites, one right here at the University of Kansas and one at Mississippi State University, but this certainly is not enough for the masses of data that are only waiting to made available for public access. Our goal is to have at least one FTP-site for every list associated with the History Network as well as a collection of texts, files and utility programs that should be available at several sites within easy reach. (Those of you who are interested in hearing more about FTP-servers for historians might be interested in Professor Mabry's paper that will be presented later in this session).
Of course, we have many more plans for the History Network. Imagine, for example, conferences and congresses being held via the net, where papers are presented and discussed while you do not have to travel at all but can follow every single session on the screen of your computer. You might have noticed the short note in the program of this conference asking all the participants to have an electronic copy of their paper stored on this university's FTP-server - this is our first experiment in this area, and we hope that, if this will prove successful, other universities will follow our example. Another highly promising idea is to have national or even international research groups work together through a special, private discussion list which allows them to discuss their work and exchange all information just as easy as if the members of the group had their offices just across the corridor. Even the exchange of information on your campus or in your faculty would be much more comfortable with the aid of a message distribution service - all information presented on your screen for quick selection and retrieval, without the need to have stacks of paper copied and carried through the whole department, and with one or two keystrokes you could send important information or announcements to your colleagues of other universities. Your students could have texts, bibliographies and sources as well as the text of your lectures available on a local file-server, and you could as well answer their questions via e-mail.
Again, the tools and resources for all these services are already existing - and the History Network will be glad to help and assist all those who want to make use of these facilities. Still, there is one major problem that we must deal with - it is the status of the work that all those who are maintaining file-servers, editing e-journals or moderating discussion lists do for our academic community.
For example, we have to convince our faculties and our colleagues that e-mail is not just a mere waste of time, but a valuable and comfortable tool. We must find more professional acceptance for e-journals - what makes a printed journal more serious and important than an e-journal, especially when the latter is more easily available and can be produced and distributed in a much easier - and cheaper - way? And finally, the work we do out there in the networks for our academic world must start to win at least some recognition in the academic community itself - the owner of a list or the editor of an e-journal is in quite a similar position as the editor of any other printed newsletter or journal, so why is the work of the latter highly recognized and reputed while the first is not? Working as a list-owner or as an editor of an e-journal is in fact a highly responsible task, and this work is done in and for an international forum, but at the moment, all of us who are helping to offer this large number of communication services and facilities are still lacking the support they need to accomplish all their tasks and duties - the History Network will hopefully be able to offer at least some help and support, but still there will be a great need the support of our universities, faculties and colleagues. And I am not speaking of mere technical support, of course.
Actually, we all do all this work on a more or less voluntary basis, in our spare-time, our lunch-break or after office-hours - so far, I have not heard of any employer who allows a list-owner to dedicate an hour or even half an hour of his working hours to his list. Naturally, I do not mean to persuade universities and institutions to offer jobs and positions wholly dedicated to e-communication - I am not sure whether it would make sense for any institution to have a full-time list-owner. But it would be a good thing if our employers were to recognize that the work we do out there in the net might make the name of our universities and institutes known all over the world. They are, in fact, right now missing a chance to gain some more, perhaps worldwide, reputation for their institution - for example, who of you has ever heard of my university, the Carl-von-Ossietzky-University Oldenburg, although this university seems to become more and more a center of electronic communication for historians?
It seems that at the moment, only a small number of us historians know about electronic communication at all. Especially in Europe, the number of those who use the computer as a communication tool is almost negligible - for example, in Germany there are less than five historians who are members of at least one of the various discussion lists, and we have a similar or even worse situation in France, the Netherlands, Spain or any other country on the continent. This is especially curious if we remember that, for example, France and Germany have gained some reputation in the field of History and Computing - I could easily name some German historians, institutions or Departments of History who have specialized in this field, but are not using their facilities to take part in electronic communication. The History Network will find a lot of work to do here as far as making our e-mail facilities known and available for the historian is concerned, and as soon as the History Network has been officially established, we hope to be able to publish a number of articles and papers in various history journals to show our colleagues the benefits of electronic communication.
History at Your Fingertips - in this short paper I was only able to give you a rather sketchy idea of the present and the future of electronic communication for historians - a more detailed overview about LISTSERV, for example, would fill more than twenty pages, and the list of all LISTSERV lists that are available is more than forty pages long, and if I were to start discussing all the technical details of e-mail, we would need hours, if not days to do so. (We will of course be glad to give you any detailed information you would like to have, and I hope that I will be able to answer most of your questions in a few moments.) Fortunately, as I hope to have made clear, it is not necessary at all to have a thorough understanding of what is happening behind the scenes of the network - for us, it is only interesting to know how to operate our e-mail facilities, and that, as you have seen, is just as easy as sending a fax or making a telephone call.
One last point needs to be considered here. We do not intend to have our academic community of historians communicate only via e-mail. It is a very different thing if you can talk to somebody personally, with the other person being in the same room as you are - there is a special quality in direct human contact e-mail will never have, and I myself would never want to miss the direct contact with my colleagues, where I can hear their voices and see their faces and their gestures. However, if this direct, personal contact is not possible for any reason, electronic mail provides a very effective, fast and reliable tool for communication. For example, while I was preparing this paper, I was in communication with Mr. Dell (whom I would like to thank for his kind help and assistance at this point) almost every day - without electronic communication I would have never been able to present this paper at this conference at all. We certainly do not want academic communication to lose any of all those qualities - instead, we want to add to these qualities.
Hopefully, we will soon be able to announce the formal foundation of the History Network - I have decided to send a first call for participants for a founding commitee within the next few weeks. However, it will still be a long and hard way before all our plans finally become reality, and there is a vast amount of work to be done before we can talk of electronic communication as a routine tool for the historian's work and research. As I have said before, all the resources we need are already available and are waiting for us to use them - what we need today is your help, your support and your assistance to make electronic communication the powerful and helpful tool it could be - for history, for the historian, for every one of us.
Thomas Zielke Historisches Seminar Carl-von-Ossietzky-Universitaet Oldenburg Postfach 2503 D-W-2900 Oldenburg Germany